143. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Ambassador Unger’s Report on Coup in Thailand

Ambassador Unger has telephoned to State (Assistant Secretary Green)2 a report of his meeting with the leaders of the coup in Thailand. This report provides significant details of the reasons for the coup and on the make-up of the new leadership structures, as follows:

  • —The leadership group consists of Field Marshal Thanom (now known as “Head of the Revolutionary Council” rather than Prime Minister), General Praphat, Pote Sarasin, and Air Marshal Dawee. These say that there are no differences among them. Thanom will be in charge of the Revolutionary Council for an undetermined period, and the country will be under martial law.
  • —The coup was undertaken in order to dismiss the Parliament and suspend the Constitution. This was done in response to what was described to Unger as a “deteriorating situation” in the country caused by the failure of the Parliament to measure up to legislative requirements such as the budget and other badly-needed pieces of legislation. Moreover, some members of the Parliament were undermining the Government by working with groups in the country seeking to broaden instability.
  • —One of the failures of the Parliament had been to impose restrictions on the terms offered for a World Bank loan, which made acceptance of this loan impossible.
  • —No foreign policy issues were involved in the coup, and there will be no change in Thai foreign policy.3 The coup leaders are hopeful that cordial relations with the U.S. will continue. When Unger pointed out that a critical reaction in the U.S. and around the world might be expected over this lapse from democracy, the leaders said that they had anticipated a reaction of this kind, but felt their move was necessary on the grounds of internal security and in order to assure decisive action with respect to internal development. (Unger suggested [Page 312]that as a public line we should express disappointment that the Thai effort to reestablish representative government had run into difficulties, note however that these are difficult times, and then hope for an early restoration of constitutional government.)
  • —There is now no Cabinet. Thanat, in meeting with a foreign correspondents group, called himself “Mr. Thanat.” Unger thought that this might be temporary, and is reserving his judgment on Thanat’s position.
  • —The King has been informed, but it is too early for his attitude to be made known. The Revolutionary group is taking full responsibility for the coup, making it plain that the King is not involved.
  • —It is also too early to know the reaction of the public and the press. Unger feels that there will be a mixed reaction, but that people will be cautious in commenting. There is no evidence of public unrest.
  • —Unger is the only foreign ambassador who has been called in to meet the new leadership and this fact has not been publicly made known.

Comment

As indicated by Ambassador Unger, there should be no change in Thai relations with the U.S. The leaders of the Revolutionary Council are in fact essentially the same ones with whom we have been dealing all along, and we can anticipate that our programs in Thailand will continue without interruption. One possible leadership casualty, how-ever, is Thanat, whose moves to make contacts with Peking have drawn some criticism from more conservative leaders such as Praphat. Praphat also had reservations about Thanat’s proposal to favor an endorsement of neutrality for Southeast Asia at an ASEAN meeting scheduled for November 25 at Kuala Lumpur.

Praphat may in fact turn out to be the new strong-man, since the coup could not have been undertaken without the military forces which he commands. Thanom was planning to step down as Prime Minister in 1972 and Praphat was considered likely to replace him; the new situation may thus have simply moved up Praphat’s succession to power even though Thanom may remain as titular head of the Revolutionary Council for some time.

I believe that we should be very cautious about commenting on the coup along the lines suggested by Ambassador Unger. There will be criticism enough on the Hill and in the media—with resulting pressure on legislation—without the Government adding to the uproar. Press guidance so far has been to say “no comment.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 564, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. VII. Secret. Sent for information. Haig signed for Kissinger. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. No record of this telephone conversation has been found.
  3. The President underlined this sentence and wrote: “K—This is what matters.”